THE SIGNAL FOR INSTANT ACTION
If the whistle blows, you’ve got to do this
[Children hold out their hands and their arms. They clap their hands and say, "O!" and "O!" again. They write their names in the dust as it settles on the cars, the sidewalks, the windowsills.
They lie down and flap their arms, kick their legs, up and down, over and across, not quite snow angels.
They hold our their hands and twirl and twirl.]
and you’ve got to go there. Where they work, where they play, where they go to school. People don’t just stay put.
Let us face, without panic, the reality of our
[Grandstands, empty in the desert, those lonely stretches—miles and miles of rocky earth spreading to the mountains, sharp and angular, dark—so dark—against the desert sky. And then to the ]
times. Blast, heat, and radioactivity. The atom bomb destroys
[farms, the neat rows of alfalfa. Ranches, green fields, filled with hundreds of cattle, of sheep, standing out under those blue skies.]
by heat. The sun a raging nuclear furnace.
These guys are really thorough. First of six easy steps. Six easy
[Flow charts and flow charts shown here and here. Their flow charts cover the walls and the charts are covered in boxes and the boxes attached by lines.
Black square here. A sample situation. A simple solution.
If you choose A, go to this box. If you choose B, go to that one. Choose your own adventure.
A map of a plan presented by men in]
steps. Posts of duty. If the time comes you actually need to take shelter, lie under the table. Have a good flashlight on hand. Electric lights may go
[dark suits. Gene Hackman to be precise. Gene Hackman in his suit with a pointer and a man from the Department of Civil Defense. They speak to each other and the man behind the camera—always unseen—as if in a private meeting, well-practiced concerns and questions.]
We can’t give you the answers.
It’s deadly. It’s like a woman. I mean, never underestimate
[Weather patterns, that northeastern flow, an important consideration. A heavy wind, pushing those dark heady clouds, spreading]
its power. Yet protection could have been easily achieved. The principle dangers of blast are
[over Nevada and Utah, small farming communities, and red rock gorges.]
flying glass and debris. However, the majority of people exposed to radiation recovered
[People cannot name someone in their town who has not had cancer or with a relative who has not had cancer. Parents dying at 56 and 62. Sisters at 34.
Thyroid and breast are the most common.
The women lose their babies, unsustainable life, an uncertain cellular division, hands and eyes and teeth growing and growing, then gone.]
completely. Today they lead normal lives.
We want to find out who goes where and who has nowhere to go. You give official sanction to this by adopting it formally. We want to work out a real plan.
Blast, heat, radioactivity.
The lower you get, the more barriers there are likely to
[The baby doll stands under the stairs in the basement, illuminated, all that negative space.]
be. A warbling siren blast lasting three minutes.
ACT FAST! Turn off the burners on gas or electric
[Generating such power in the desert. The blast moves under and through the earth, tunneling, and spreading.
Little funnels appear, pierce through that heavy crust, swirling, dark and heavy ash, and things pulled from the core]
stoves. Taking shelter may be a race against time.
The signal for instant action.
If the whistle blows, you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to go there. We owe it to ourselves, our families, and our country to know how to protect ourselves
[from the earth. Dust is everywhere. Everywhere.
I cannot see.]
from fallout. Mass and distance. The fallout shelter is the best defense. Our survival could depend on
[Survival town is filled with dolls, a mother on the couch, taking her cup of tea. Father’s in the dining room or the kitchen, or the couch next to Mother. And baby, baby stands under the stairs in the basement and when the blast comes, I can see through baby’s plastic skin.
Just shown right through, illuminating a different kind of spectral]
how well we are prepared to meet this threat.
We all know the atomic bomb. It is such a big explos
[A dangerous desert. Our sun, a raging furnace. A planet with a molten core. So elemental.]
ion. We all know the atomic bomb is very dangerous. Automobiles can be dangerous too, but we’re ready.
Troops sheltered by trenches.
[Joshua trees—gleaming in the landscape, on the film, how they are lit as if from the inside out—an x-ray—exposing their]
Concrete or cinder block houses weather the blast best. On the sandy wastes of Yucca Flats, Nevada.
And preparation can mean survival for you. Someday your
[bones. So lovely and white. Cleaned right through. The exploding ground. The houses blown apart, bit by bit. No home bones. Just the brilliant irradiated landscape. Just the shell.]
life may depend on it. The elaborate exercises proved survival is possible, offering new hope to all who live in the shadow
[Shapes on the skin. On the young girl’s neck and back, a plaid on the man’s arms.]
of the atomic age.
People don’t just stay put. When the particles fall back to earth they may be dangerous. Stay under cover until you hear officially
[Watch the sky. Colors like you’ve never seen. Light fills the sky, the whole earth perhaps, and then concentrates, pulled in, and the air and the earth, and everything, everything is pulled up into the sky, into that shapely stem, a full, red-petaled head. It stops my breath]
that it is safe to go back outside. The fallout shelter is the best defense.
A third invaluable ally
[and I imagine the people standing in their driveways, in their schoolyards, in the middle of their fields of winter wheat]
TIME. In two days, though still dangerous
[standing, staring at the sky, grown brighter for just moments, showing under the world’s skin.]
It’s only 1/100th but in two weeks it's only
Peeling, wiping, and washing. Fallout swallowed accidentally with food or in drinking water would do you no
[Warnings against nuclear attack, the possibility of bombs, Soviet pilots dropping bombs on our cities.
Thus the need for those safe low places, basements, shelters, concrete buildings. Cans and cans of food and a supply of batteries and flashlights. Stored drinking water.
The call of a warbling siren.
But if the bombs are dropped in the desert, those lonely still places, the sandy wastes of Nevada. If the wind blows north/ northeast, if that lovely cloud, red-centered, spilling across the sky, shedding tiny scraps of ash, to be played in as if it were snow]
no immediate harm.
I mean, never underestimate its power.
[Children in the aspen grove, chase each other round and round. They look south and see a flash]
A bright flash, brighter than the sun, brighter than anything you’ve ever seen.
[and clap their hands. They say "O!" and "O!" again. They open their arms and their hands, and they twirl and twirl and twirl, the ash circling slowly from the sky, until]
The signal for immediate action.
Mass and distance.
Blast, heat, and.
[their arms get tired. And they line up to go back to their classroom, boy-girl, boy-girl, touching their ashy hands with the tips of their tongues, shaking the dust from their hair and coats.
They do not know how the blast moves through the earth, small columns rising, the slow burn, the bone-whiteness of the light, the burst of air and earth, the light shows things clean through, and then the dark (such a darkness) of air heavy with ground, the earth and the sky become one.
I cannot see. Then there is a house on fire and then there is nothing left to burn.
The children shift from foot to foot. They shake their arms and their legs. They look at the sky and all they see is blue.]
I wanted to combine the language of Department of Civil Defense films, such as [this], with stories and observations about nuclear testing like [this].